Former Liberty students reunite at memorial

Bailey RichardsStaff Reporter

August 6, 2012

Before the days of integration, African-American students in Hazard attended one of two schools, the Liberty School or a local boarding school. These institutions were often underfunded and utilized hand-me-down books and supplies, yet out of this many of the students have gone on to achieve success in life, and think fondly of their time at Liberty.

Dozens of former students from Liberty School came out to remember their school, their experiences, and their classmates during a reunion on Saturday. Every two years the former students get together at the Liberty School monument on Liberty Street. The monument itself was designed by one of the former students, James “JC” Collins, who said that it means a lot to him to return and reunite with with other former students.

The Liberty Street school was built as part of the Work Progress Administration in 1936. The administration was created by President Franklin Roosevelt to put Americans back to work after the Great Depression, and would be responsible for building much of the American infrastructure, including highways, bridges and even schools.

The school was open until 1963, but the integration of the schools started a year earlier. Collins said that along with consolidating schools in the name of integration, it also gave the students of Liberty School a chance at better facilities and opportunities.

“Really, we didn’t have the facilities that we should have had,” said Collins. “We had some great sport teams — basketball, football, baseball — we had it in spite of not having the facilities.”

Students at Liberty School also had only a few teachers working from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Paulette Roberts said that she remembers getting used books from Hazard High School, and was so fed up that they weren’t receiving new books that she and her sister threw the old books out of a window in the building.

From these humble beginnings, many of these students learned valuable lesions of relying on each other, working hard and consequences of their actions. Many of these students left the school and went on to become doctors, judges, lawyers and business owners.

The school was made up of a lower level for elementary kids and a upper floor for high school. While many of the communities around Perry County had African-American elementaries, there was only one public high school.

“We drew kids from as far away as Red Fox,” noted Kenneth Combs, the president of the Liberty School Alumni Association.

These students were given a bus voucher of up to $15 a week to get back and forth to school on public buses.

The school was strict and administrators believed in corporal punishment. Many of the students reminisced about being paddled by their teachers, but also how it made them stronger. Some even said that teachers would show up at their homes to make sure parents were aware of their mistakes.

While these rough days in education are now gone, the lasting memory of the influence of the Liberty School can be felt. Many of the students left the area, making their homes across the United States.

Hazard Independent Schools board member Dennis Smith attended Saturday’s reunion as a representative to show the board’s support for the school’s alumni.

“It is important to share the great memories that you have had here,” said Smith.

As a way of honoring the memory of the school and its students, people in attendance released balloons for those that have passed away since the last reunion.

The former Liberty Dragons that were in attendance ended the ceremony, honoring the school by singing the school song. The last line sums up how many of these students feel about their school: “Dear old Liberty High School, I’m in love with you.”